HORN OF AFRICA: Human Trafficking on the Rise Amid Drought and Famine
By Peter Kahare
RIFT VALLEY, Kenya, Nov 2 (IPS) - Amina Shakir (not her real name) fled the
drought and famine in Somalia for a better life in Kenya. But she did so
illegally, placing her faith in the hands of a criminal network headed by
Mukhalis or agents in Swahili. In the end her faith was misplaced as she was
"sold" into employment upon finally reaching Kenya.
But Shakir is not the only one illegally crossing the border into Kenya.
Natural disasters, armed conflict and famine devastating the Horn of Africa
have caused an increase in human smuggling and trafficking in the region.
Shakir's journey took her from a collection point in Somalia to a
transaction point in Eastleigh estate, in Kenya. She and several other girls
made the over 1,000-kilometre journey in a truck under the guard of five
"I was not alone, other girls were in the truck as well, one man was also
there. Our handlers assured us of our safety till we get to our destination.
I felt I was in safe hands," Shakir told IPS in halting Swahili.
But when she arrived in Eastleigh estate, a suburb in Nairobi that has
become an international business centre, she was sold into employment. She
now works as a shop attendant for her "buyer".
Womankind Kenya, a non-governmental organisation based in Garissa in Kenya's
North Eastern Province, estimates that 50 young girls are trafficked or
smuggled to Nairobi from here and Somalia each week.
"Vehicles that transport miraa (a leafy narcotic) from Kenya to Somalia
return loaded with young girls and women who end up in brothels in Nairobi
or who are shipped to destinations outside Kenya," says Hubbie Hussein,
Womankind Kenya's director.
The Deputy Provincial Police Officer in Rift Valley Province, Kenya's
largest and most populous province, Ephantus Kiura, confirmed this. "Over
200 illegal immigrants enter the province every week from Sudan, Ethiopia,
Tanzania, Uganda and Somalia through (Kenya's over 400-kilometre porous
boarder section), which it shares with these countries," Kiura says.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that over
10,000 people are trafficked into Kenya's Coast Province each year. The
organisation says that trafficked children from Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia,
Somalia and Uganda work as domestic labourers, sex workers and cattle
herders across Kenya.
"As of Sept. 28 there were more than 452,000 refugees, mostly Somalis, at
Daadab camp. The huge influx of refugees has complicated the movement of
people in the region, it has increased the vulnerability of people to
trafficking, smuggling and other forms of exploitation," says Jean-Phillipe
Chauzy the head of communications at IOM.
Hussein says that Nairobi is the central market from where girls are
distributed to different parts of Kenya and to other countries.
"From Nairobi many girls are sent to Mombasa (Kenya's international tourist
destination along the coast) where underage girls are trafficked for sex
tourism. They are taken to massage parlours or beauty shops, where contacts
from tour operators and hotels come to select the ones they wish to take as
sex workers in the tourism industry," says Hussein
The head of Womankind Kenya says that these tour operators and hotel workers
work as brokers and charge a fee of 600 dollars for young girls aged between
10 and 15 years who are mostly sold into sexual slavery. "The trafficked
children are taken to secluded villas in Mombasa where sex tourism thrives,"
A report released in October by the International Peace Institute and the
Africa Centre for Open Governance says the majority of people trafficked in
East Africa are women and children who are sold into prostitution or forced
The report says traffickers and smugglers prey on drought, poverty and
conflict in the Horn of Africa to smuggle people to Nairobi and across the
world with the promise of a better life.
"People are fleeing the hardship in their countries to settle in Mombasa and
Nairobi, some move to Tanzania, Rwanda, Malawi and even to South Africa.
Some want to get better jobs but end up in forced labour or sex slavery,"
the programme officer at the advocacy and legal advisory centre at
Transparency International, Fatuma Asaad, told IPS.
However, Kenya's Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of State for
Immigration and Registration of Persons, Emmanuel Kisombe, says Kenya has
put in place effective legislation to curb trafficking. The Counter
Trafficking in Persons Act was signed by President Mwai Kibaki in 2010.
"Under the law, trafficking in persons is now criminal and people involved
in or convicted of the offence face a 30-year jail term and a fine of over
300,000 dollars," says Kisombe.
But Kiura doubts that effective legislation will stop the trafficking. He
told IPS that corruption permeates virtually the country's entire security
system and immigration departments meant to implement the law.
According to one Kenyan human trafficking agent, the networks have links to
politicians, senior police officers, non-governmental organisations, senior
immigration officials, airline officers and resettlement officials in
"These powerful people, including foreign diplomats and ministers in Kenya,
have transformed access to foreign visas into a growth industry matched
possibly only by piracy, selling visas for 10,000 to 15,000 dollars each to
leaders of the networks," the agent says.
The Provincial Police Officer in Coast Province, Aggrey Adoli, says 140
people are arrested weekly after being smuggled or trafficked into Kenya
amounting to 7,280 arrests per year.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg since illegal immigration has increased
in the recent past due to droughts and conflict," Adoli says.
------------[ Sent via the dehai-wn mailing list by dehai.org]--------------
Received on Wed Nov 02 2011 - 18:20:32 EDT